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DRIDEN AND MILTON CONTRASTED.
Shakspeare,-those frank and happy festivities at the Mermaid Tavern, the tradition of which has been kept alive, and presents to our fancy the great dramatist, with Ben Jonson and Fletcher, Beaumont, Donne and Ford, and the rest, like a band of brothers. In Dryden's day there was envy and jealousy and malice, great and small, -each man's impulse selfishness. The time had nearly gone by for that amiable, fraternal feeling in literature,—the joint authorship,--such as carries the names of Beaumont and Fletcher inseparable and undistinguished to future generations.
In treating the powers of Dryden as a writer of satire, let me briefly notice what has occurred to me as a contrast with his illustrious predecessor, Milton. Like Dryden, Milton was involved in strife with men of the world and of letters, politicians and authors; he too had occasion for satire. But for that he deemed "the vision and the faculty divine” too sacred; and he poured forth his fierce denunciations and rebukes in
prose. Bitter and sometimes coarse and vulgar words, which cannot but be deplored, broke from him, but never in his pure
and majestic poetry. His Muse was too sacred to be profaned by this world's angry and fleeting passions. It is only over the stormy temper of Milton's prose that one of his most enthusiastic admirers has lamented in a noble sonnet. The lines are from an ardent lover of genius, -himself a man of genius,--the late Sir Egerton Brydges :
“Not Milton's holy genius could secure
In life his name from insult and from scorn,
He could not soft submission's dictates learn. I must hasten on from the satirical portion of Dryden's authorship, to notice, very briefly, some of his argumentative poems,-a species of poetry especially illustrating the two prime qualities of his poetry,—the power of reasoning in verse and a compressed vigour of style. Inmediately after the accession of James II., when that prince's design of reconciling England to the Church of Rome became apparent, Dryden, at a time most suspicious for his sincerity, suddenly declared himself a convert to Popery, and gave to his new alliance the allegorical poem “The Hind and the Panther,” the longest of his original poems. The fable is fanciful, perhaps somewhat fantastic, in the device of conveying an elaborate theological controversy, as some simple moral is inculcated in Æsop's little parables. It has been remarked of Dryden that he reasoned better in verse than in prose. In this poem the reasoning is acute, with an intermixture of wit and the best flow of his versification. It is a statement, probably to their full advantage, of the arguments employed in favour of the infallibility of Romanism against an unsteady and ultra Protestantism. The hind, an immaculate and unoffending animal, was, to the fancy of the proselyte, a type of the purity and gentleness of the Church of Rome; the panther, a strong and beautiful but spotted beast, is the Church of England; and various other beasts are representatives of different sects,—the quaking hare, for instance, being the type of that worthy Society in which the poet finds naught else to censure but their scruples as to war and oaths. But the associates of his early days, the Presbyterians, find less mercy at the poet's hands; for their image “is a gaunt and hungry wolf, who pricks up his predestinating ears.” While it is wiser, as well as more charitable, neither to condemn Dryden's adoption of Roman Catholic tenets for insincerity, nor to ascribe it to sordid motives, it should be understood that it was not a conversion from any previous well-settled creed, but the movement of a mind which as yet had taken little heed to its hereafter. He found himself growing old, many precious years misspent in worthless, thankless, and dangerous pursuits, in the service and in the society of the dissolute and unprincipled, making sport for them, and displaying his God-given strength in literary gladiatorship; after a life busied in the thickest of the throng of a faithless generation, he began at last to have misgivings, and to feel, in the words of a truly moral poet who had gone before him,
" That unless above himself he can
Erect himself, how poor a thing is man!” He witnessed the ecclesiastical ferment of his times, -affairs of church entangled with affairs of state, –and his wearied and awakened spirit hastened from the apathy or restlessness of scepticism into the repose of absolute ecclesiastical infallibility. The whole course of the argument, in the poem, shows this, even if it were not pretty clearly avowed :
'My thoughtless youth was wing'd with vain desires ;
THE HIND AND THE PANTHER.
Such was I, such by nature still I am ;
Good life be now my task : my doubts are done.” The opening lines of the “Hind and the Panther” have been reputed among the most musical in the language, -an opinion, however, entertained by those who have limited their sense of rhythm chiefly to the rhyme and the couplet :
“A milk-white hind, immortal and unchanged,
Fed on the lawns and in the forest ranged;
Panting and pensive, now she ranged alone
As, to be loved, needs only to be seen.” With the high eulogies on Dryden's odes, especially “Alexander's Feast,” I confess myself unable to sympathize. While there is much of lyrical rapidity in it, there is an absence of lyrical dignity both in thought and language: it has somewhat too much of the bacchanalian strain and too much of the pettiness of a mere song to come up to the standard of a true ode.
In the course of this lecture I have had occasion to condemn the perversion of Dryden's genius to low and unhallowed purposes. There was not only the native licentiousness in many of his dramas, but a borrowed iniquity in not a few of his translations from ancient authors. His imagination did not, like Milton's, travel into Greek and Roman poetry to feed on the purity and wisdom to be found there, but gloated over its corruptions and obscenity, as if it were better to go to the Eternal City and there to delve in the tombs or beneath the mouldering arches of its sewers than to stand on the Capitoline and breathe the pure air under an Italian sky and blowing across the seven hills of Rome.
It was my intention to have attempted to draw a contrast between
of Milton and Dryden, to each of them a season of solitude and worldly misfortune :-Milton's the noble, placid closing of a life spent ever in his great Taskmaster's eye,"—the very darkness of blindness sanctified to his meditative spirit, as he sublimely imagined it,
the shadows of heavenly wings” falling upon his footsteps ;-Dryden's old
age the remnant of a life worn out in his Egyptian bondage, embittered by the memory of talents spent in the thankless services of the meanest, most sordid and grovelling of earthly kings. This contrast was in my thoughts ; but, when I reflect on the lines I now in conclusion read, I find myself disarmed of the intention :
•If joys hereafter must be purchased here With loss of all that mortals hold so dear, Then welcome infamy and public shame, And, last, a long farewell to worldly fame! ’T is said with ease ; but oh, how hardly tried By haughty souls to human honour tied ! Oh, sharp convulsive pangs of agonizing pride ! Down then, thou rebel, never more to rise ! And what thou didst, and dost, so dearly prize, That fame, that darling fame,-make that thy sacrifice; ’T is nothing thou hast given; then add thy tears For a long race of unrepenting years : 'T is nothing yet, yet all thou hast to give; Then add those may be years thou hast to live : "T is nothing still ; then poor
and naked come ; Thy Father will receive his unthrift home, And thy blest Saviour's blood discharge the mighty sum."
The Age of Queen Anne : Pope;
Pocts of the later part of the Eighteenth Century: Cowper.
THE AGE OF POPE-CHANGE IN THE SOCIAL RELATIONS OF AUTHORS-LANGUAGE
OF DEDICATIONS-PERIODICAL PUBLICATIONS-STATE OF BRITISH PARTIES LORD MAHON'S ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE AGE-SPIRIT OF THAT AGE-ALEXANDER POPE-HIS ASPIRATIONS-HIS WANT OF SYMPATHY WITH HIS PREDECESSORSIMITATION OF FRENCH POETRY-POPE'S EDITION OF SHAKSPEARE-POPE'S PASTORALS-CORRUPTIONS OF THE ENGLISH TONGUE-JOHN DENNIS'S EMENDATIONS OF SHAKSPEARE-POPE'S VERSIFICATION–THE“ TOWN”-THE MOONLIGHT SCENE IN THE ILIAD-POPE AND MILTON CONTRASTED—"ELOISA TO ABELARD"-THE “RAPE OF THE LOCK"-POPE'S SATIRES-THE “ESSAY ON CRITICISM"-THE "ESSAY ON MAN"-LORD BOLINGBROKE-ORTHODOXY OF THE “ESSAY ON MAN" -HIS APPRECIATION OF FEMALE CHARACTER-WILLIAM COWPER-HIS INSANITY -"THE TASK"_“JOHN GILPIN"_“THE DIRGE"_"THE CASTAWAY"_" COWPER'S GRAVE."
the seventeenth century, his death having its date in the year 1700. A literary era of great brilliancy soon followed in the early years of the eighteenth century,—the age of Queen Anne, as it has been styled, -of the poetry of which Pope stands, by universal admission, the representative-enjoying very much the same exclusive supremacy as had been attained by his immediate predecessor, Dryden, in his days. The age has its distinctive traits, political, moral, and social, affecting its literature; and Pope lived in close and strong sympathy with the times. He was, though devoted to the prime pursuit of literary fame, intimately associated with the actors and the scenes of public life. His reputation was speedy and brilliant. The real worth of it has been much discussed within the last few years,
-a discussion, however, in which, except with a few ultraists, there is less real difference of opinion than zeal of controversy.
Before entering upon any statement of these opinions, I wish to notice a change which, at this time, was taking place in the social relations of authors,--their position in the community. The condition of literature has in different moods of society, by this consideration, been materially